Preparing to Receive Class of 2020 – A Call for Humility
By Humble SIPA Salesperson
(Nome du plume created by the TMP Board)
In a few days time, we will receive several hundreds of admitted students belonging to the first two-digit repeating graduation year since Class of 1919, and the last one until we enter the 22nd century, Class of 2121.
That automatically means whether you are in your last semester (congratulations Class of 2018!), third semester, second semester, or first semester, you will start talking to accepted students about how your experience has been at SIPA. That also means once you start making statements about SIPA you will be, whether intentionally or unintentionally influencing a person at a major crossroad in his or her life.
Don’t take that responsibility lightly. I guess in order to justify this admonition I should preface it with this: it is a responsibility.
‘But a responsibility to what?’ you would ask me. I would say a responsibility to be both honest and humble about one’s experience at SIPA.
First, we should all admit and agree to this: quite frankly, I don’t know everything about SIPA and neither do you. SIPA is 1400+ students plus professors, lecturers, alumni, administrators, cleaners and other miscellaneous staff that might have escaped my mind. Doesn’t matter if you’ve graduated either – I’ve talked to plenty of recent SIPA alumni whose opinions are not aligned with the current reality of SIPA or were simply wrong with their facts. Admittedly, this might be because something changes at SIPA every single semester.
SIPA is also funny because despite heated charges against its so-called diversity (something I will address in the following paragraphs), it is so broad and big that no one can ever grasp all its dimensions. We saw how Herculean such a task would be at the Spring 2018 Town Hall, where students found out that certain school administrators lived in a different dimension from ours, one where all water fountains and dispensers at SIPA working perfectly - a world so unattainable that it exists only in Philip K. Dick and Octavia Butler novels.
We have to acknowledge, a student who has been here for only a few months in the IFEP concentration probably knows more about his or her concentration than say, an HRHP concentrator who is about to graduate. These disparities and differential levels of SIPA knowledge can be found across various lines - concentration, specialization, nationality, race, and other descriptors.
When we make certain generalizations about SIPA that might or might not be accurate to our fellow SIPA peers, it will probably self-correct over time through interactions with those with the correct information or other ways, such as simply reading an email. However, saying such things to admitted students is potentially more harmful, because they do not have the same access to self-correcting venues that current students do. To say that in simple words, what you say might have great influence on how they perceive SIPA, and ultimately their decision to become a Seeple or not.
And that in itself, is power. When you talk to an admitted student, you are, whether you like it or not, speaking with the power of authority. You are passing judgments based on your experience to others who are at the lower rungs of the SIPA-mastery ladder, and your right to dole out such judgments is valid. I do not oppose or propose to deny of you such right, even if there was a way to do so. However, what you say should come from a position of humility, the internalized recognition that you do not know everything about SIPA, not domineering omniscience.
Practically, what does that mean though? I would like to endeavor to humbly suggest a few courses of action:
1) Connect admitted students to your SIPA friends who have the most relevant interests or background to them. Met an admitted student who is interested in climate change, but don’t know much about it? Offer to introduce the person to your friend in the EE concentration implementing a climate change project in Latin America;
2) Suggest that they read the SIPA website. Seriously, it helps;
3) Don’t shy away from telling admitted students what you perceive to be the weaknesses of SIPA. For instance, SIPA has been criticized for the lack of racial diversity among the US students and biased course offerings. However, as discussed at a SIPA event not so long ago, if we present those criticisms and those alone as a reason not to attend SIPA, then we risk the danger of not attracting students who will continue “the struggle” to rectify those faults. Therefore, you should also mention the fact that students constantly call into the question the commitment to diversity when Dean Janow makes herself available, along with the rise of new student-led groups to fill in the gaps of knowledge such as the Palestine Working Group, RISE, Puerto Rico Initiative amongst others; and
4) Recommend The Morningside Post to them. I say this as an independent writer who has no formal affiliation with TMP at all. I think they have done a commendable job of displaying the diverse voices and opinions of SIPA and their content would certainly be of value to admitted students. Of course, I shall opt to retract my comment if this piece is rejected.
If you’ve stuck around and read this long-winded piece until the end, I will close off by saying that I solemnly pledge to walk the talk and follow my own advice. Where can I get some humble pie, by the way?
Editor’s Note: As you can see, we did not reject this piece (though we did feel a tad threatened!). TMP is first and foremost a forum for SIPA student voices where diverse perspectives and opinions are welcomed. Thinking of submitting a piece? Send your submission or inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org.